I Love This Chile! But Not Just “Any” Hatch Chile: Liza Trevino

Posted: Apr 21 2014

It was late summer in Austin, Texas in the mid-2000s when my culinary horizons changed forever.  A routine grocery store errand turned life-altering event. 


Don’t you just love when that happens?

I knew something was off the moment I got out of the car.  The blistering, oppressive summer afternoon heat was different than normal.  The air smelled smoky…roasted even.  Was there a fire?  Was everything in the market going up in flames? 

Then I heard it; a faint scraping sound like a wire brush being tumble dried in a big iron pit.   I approached the store front with curious caution.  From all the smoke - I still harbored the idea fire trucks would overtake the store’s parking lot any minute.  

That’s when I noticed a line of black, cast iron, meshy barrel-smokers lined up, lit up and filled up with …something. 

Hmmm….this looked promising.   And the air tasted delicious – spicy AND sweet.  I got up close. 


And that’s when I met: the Hatch chile.

The chile known as Hatch hails from the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico.  It grows from early spring to late summer and has a late July to early August harvest.  (Note: that’s a short harvest.) Something about the mystical combination of air and dirt quality in New Mexico produces the heady, intoxicating Hatch chile. Then batches of the long, green pods are sent by the truckload to all corners of the Southwest. 

Lucky for me, I’d been in the right place at the exact, right time. 

When I ventured inside the store, the roasted chiles were there, as promised, resting in plastic bags labeled mild or hot. But there was more. The market had “hatched” (
Sorry...I couldn’t resist.) all manner of prepared foods featuring the wonderfully versatile chile:

Hatch hamburgers

Hatch cheese bread loaves

Hatch crab cakes (a personal favorite)

Hatch chicken sausage

Hatch flour tortillas

Hatch salsa

Hatch ceviche

Hatch penne casserole

Hatch chocolate bars

Hatch stuffing

Hatch chile…EVERYthing! It was glorious!

After a couple of weeks, the roasted, smoky tendrils billowing through the air that had deepened the flavors of all it came in contact with faded away. Hatch season was over, and the chiles were gone. Only their taste memory remained, lingering like a hazy memory from a star-filled summer night. 

It’s only in retrospect, that I recognize the moment the mighty Hatch cast its spell on me …and many others, I might add.  And by retrospect, I mean only a year after my first introduction to the chile.  When August rolled around, I saw signs in my grocery store touting the upcoming Hatch Chile Festival.  It was like someone announced Santa Claus was coming to town and bringing all the best Easter candy with him! 


Only better.  

Now that I live far from central Texas and the Southwest, I have resigned myself to a Hatch-less existence.  I will have to enjoy the season vicariously through my friends and family who have likewise caught Hatch fever.  One of my Texas compatriots who is now an ex-pat living in upstate New York recently had a New Mexican company ship 35 lbs (yes that was 35 POUNDS!) of the wondrous little chiles to him.  It sounds extreme, I know, but it’s a really, really, long winter up by the Canadian border.  I foresee many forthcoming of Hatch chile recipe innovations from that corner of the world.

As for me, I fared better.  It was pure chance, really.  A recent lunch visit to a suburban Atlanta, Georgia (where I live now) Whole Foods brought me face-to-face with the Hatch chiles.  Rejoice!!  I grabbed the nearest plastic bag and  began stuffing it full like a mercenary who found King Tut’s gold treasure.  At 99 cents a pound, the treasure came relatively cheap.  But the value is priceless.  Now, with inroads to Atlanta, I’m hoping this Hatch expansion continues…


…Till next year Hatch, we’ll see you then.

-Liza Trevino
Follow Liza Trevino @GenX_TexMex

 

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